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Everything Is Someone’s Least Favorite

Just to follow up briefly on my thoughts from yesterday, another thing I say when pontificating about making a living as a storyteller is this:

“Every piece you do is going to end up being someone’s least favorite thing of yours . . . maybe they’re least favorite thing ever.”

Hearing and properly dealing with criticism may be the toughest part of creating stories (of any sort) for public consumption. And no matter how well you achieve your goals with a particular piece, no matter how many accolades you get, every piece you ever create is going to fail to connect with SOME portion of the audience.

That’s just how it goes.

Look at the life’s work of any writer, actor, director, artist, comedian, singer, cartoonist, or other creative type and you’ll find some corner of it that critics or the audience in general don’t like . . . and you’ll also find a smaller cadre of critics and the audience who think it’s the pinnacle of that person’s career. Likewise, look at that creator’s least successful, most unpopular work and you’ll find a cadre of folks who think it is the most brilliant thing ever put on God’s green earth.

The same will be true of EVERY project you ever publish or release.

It’s important that you get used to that idea. There are as many different ways to interpret your work as there are people who encounter it. And just as many different feelings that the work will invoke in the audience. Nothing is loved or hated universally.

Everything Is Somebody’s Favorite

On the intermittent occasions when I’m asked to speak publicly about the creative process, or when young (or not-so-young) writers or cartoonists seek my opinion on life as a professional storyteller, at some point I generally end up saying something like this:

“Every piece you do is going to end up being someone’s introduction to your work. What’s more, every piece you do is going to end up being someone’s favorite thing of yours . . . maybe their favorite thing ever.”

I say this as a way of a) reminding us all that we should put our best effort into every project and every piece that we work on, and b) once we complete a piece and it’s published, it no longer “belongs” to us . . . it belongs to the audience, who will tell us how successful it is and, indeed, what it means to the world.

Case in point: The other day, out of the blue, I got a little bit of feedback/fan mail about a short story I wrote in 1999. The story was the third “chapter” in the Dragonlance novel/anthology “The Odyssey of Gilthanas”—itself a not-wholly-successful experiment in mixing novel, short story, and RPG sourcebook.

I’ve always thought of this particular story as a strong concept that my prose didn’t do justice to, not a failure but certainly not a success. And over all the years since its publication, I’d never heard anyone say anything in particular about it at all, so I was glad that at the very least it didn’t provide a stumbling block to the rest of the tale being told in the book. It was a project from my past—a bullet point on my bibliography—that described a thought I had more than a decade ago. In point of fact, I had to go back and re-read the story even to be sure of what I’d said in it.

But to the person who wrote to me, it was something she’d just discovered—fresh, new tale full of meaning for the present day.

ATTN: Seattle Area Cosplayers

Lj Stephens and I are looking for folks who would be willing to volunteer to pose in costume for local artists to sketch. The events would be held at AFK Elixirs & Eatery, would take place on a weekday evening (details pending), and would last 3-4 hours. We would need one volunteer per event, so right now we’re just gathering information from those who are interested.

Unfunny Foolishness

I’m amazed every year by how many people “celebrate” April Fool’s Day by posting believable, and often sad-bordering-on-calamitous “gags” that are too easy to believe are true. The point, I was always taught, was to be outrageous, improbable, and most of all funny in your April foolishness … that the point was more to get a laugh than to actually trick anyone.

Look, it’s not that I’m against April Fool’s Day. In fact, in my family we have a long history of celebrating … with the SAME JOKE every year. My dad actually gets more than a little sad if at some point during the day each and every one of his kids, grandkids, and outlying family members don’t call to tell him specifically that his car is on fire. (I didn’t say it was a GOOD joke, I just said it was OUR joke.)

So, with all that in mind, I apologize in advance to anyone who has something unexpected and tragic happen today … because I’m going to be apt to dismiss news of such events as poorly executed “jokes.” I’ll resume my usual empathetic ways tomorrow, once this nonsense has ended.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to be waiting for my nephews to call and tell me that MY car is on fire! (Ahhh … family traditions!)

A Star Is Borne

I had a strange dream that I was cast as the lead in an indie film being shot somewhere in Montana. I flew into a small local airport where the producer (who also seemed to be my agent) met me with my trailer (literally a boxy, plyboard trailer hooked onto the back of his pick-up truck and outfitted like a summer camp bunk) and drove me off to the location. It was several hours away on a down-and-out ranch run by a middle-aged widow (whom I didn’t see in the dream) and her son and daughter (each of whom made an appearance … and were sexually suggestive with me).

Never got around to what the movie actually was, though I was clearly ME and more than a little uncertain about being a leading man for a feature film of any sort. I was clearly not entirely thrilled with the script, though no real details about it were mentioned in the dream.

I woke up just about the time I was trying to decide which uncomfortable bed I was going to sleep in, and thinking about the fact that I hadn’t brought any ranch-appropriate shoes to wear. My thought seemed to be that they’d have something for me in wardrobe … but the reality seemed to be that “wardrobe” was whatever I had in my suitcase (which wasn’t much).

Wonder if I’ll dream about being on set tonight?

Wednesday Toon: 500 Eldritch Pieces

This week’s 10′x10′ Toon provides proof positive of the difference between INT and WIS.

Wednesday Toon: Seeing Is Believing

It’s Wednesday, and that means a new comic over at This week we see that there isn’t any ploy too cheap for a hungry dungeon denizen.

Wednesday Toon: Ramming Speed

It’s Wednesday, and that means a new comic over at This week it’s a naval Typo of Doom contributed by none other than Bruce Heard (who just completed a successful Kickstarter drive for his World of Calidar campaign setting).

What a Wit Am I!

As most folks in the U.S. will know, yesterday was a national holiday—Martin Luther King Jr. Day—with all the office and service closures such an event generally comes with.

At the start of the day, I REMEMBERED that it was MLK Day. I knew that kids would be out of school, and that would impact everything from midday crowds at restaurants to many of my friends’ availability for email and phone conversations.

And yet . . . I carefully planned the latter part of my afternoon around being able to go to the post office and the bank on my way to tonight’s playtest. The post office and bank that are ALWAYS closed on national holidays. Which yesterday was. Which I knew.

So the only question left to me was whether remembering the holiday but failing to apply that knowledge completely makes me a HALFwit or a full DIMwit.

Maybe I should post a poll.

El Maestro & Me

Recently on Facebook, cartoonist extraordinaire Scott Shaw! created a new group to celebrate the work, talent, and incredible generosity of Sergio Aragonés … El Maestro, himself. Fittingly enough, the group is called ¡Viva Sergio!

The group has been filled with lots of anecdotes of encounters with Sergio at conventions, signings, and random places around the globe. Every single one is a testament to El Maestro’s graciousness, sense of humor, and love of comics (not to mention life). There have also been a string of photos—some showing covers or pages from Sergio’s well known comics (Groo the Wanderer, MAD Magazine, etc.), others the sketches he made when signing people’s books, and a few excerpts from books that you may never have known he was involved with.

One from the latter category caught my eye. It was an ink wash cartoon of a 1960s era Jewish mother serving a meal to a young fellow in a police uniform and saying, “That’s a job for a nice Jewish boy?” (See the comic here.) Funny enough on its own, but seeing that cartoon caused a nearly palpable flashback for me. I remembered being . . . I dunno, eight years old, maybe . . . in my family’s den, poring through the bookcase and coming across a little red book of cartoons entitled “Memoirs of a Jewish Madam.”

Now, I knew that “madam” was a polite word for a woman … so this must be a book about a nice Jewish woman, right?

Well, the comics certainly featured a middle-aged Jewish woman, but they ALSO had a slew of pretty women in very skimpy outfits. And jokes that I kinda got . . . but I knew I missing SOMETHING. So I brought the book in to my mom and asked her to explain it to me.

I wish I remember exactly what she said. All I recall was that she gave me technically accurate, but not terribly enthusiastic explanations and sent me on my way. I was too young to really get the context anyway . . . but I LOVED those cartoons! So I was unhappy when, a few weeks later, I went looking for the book again, and it had mysteriously disappeared from the bookcase, never to be seen again.

I’d pretty much forgotten about that book until a week or so ago. I never met anyone else who’d heard of it, and never saw a copy in any of the hundreds of used bookstores I’ve visited over the past 40+ years. But once I saw that single comic with the young police officer, it all flooded back to me. I had NO IDEA that those cartoons had been done by Sergio (at the time I hadn’t even encountered him through MAD Magazine yet) . . . but in my newly awakened mind’s eye, it was clear to me that this book HAD been drawn by El Maestro. Who else COULD it be!

So I hopped online, did a  Google search, and quickly found used copies of both the original book and its sequel (it had a SEQUEL!) for sale from a used bookstore in Tucson, AZ. Inexpensively, too . . . because who knew that such things even EXISTED?!

A package arrived the other day. A package from Tucson. And inside I found charmingly naughty jokes, beautiful comics by a man I’ve admired for as long as I can remember admiring artists, and a whole slew of memories I didn’t know I’d forgotten.

¡Viva Sergio! indeed! ¡Viva El Maestro!